A natural consequence of Mexico’s war on drugs has been an increase in extortion, now considered a booming industry for smaller drug gangs, and its rapid growth throughout Mexico. Drug cartels have recently expanded their extortion efforts to the education sector. In particular, the drug gangs have threatened to conduct violence against teachers and pupils in the coastal city of Acapulco.
On September 27, 2011, five severed heads, as well as five decapitated bodies, were discovered in a sack inside a wooden crate near an elementary school in the Garita neighborhood of Acapulco. Various hand-written threats were found at the scene, demanding teachers to pay a portion of their salaries to the drug cartels or face violent repercussions. One message sarcastically suggested that the people of Acapulco should thank the governor for “this war.” Violent threats have been on the rise due to an intensified government crackdown on cartel leaders in the area. According to a study by Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst at the Mexico City consulting firm Lantia Consultores, extortion is considered by the cartels to be the “best business after international trafficking.” Since extortion relies on intimidation and little else, it can easily provide regular income for smaller drug gangs.
In August 2011, seventy-five schools in Acapulco were abandoned by teachers after they received threats from the drug cartels ordering that they hand over half of their salaries by October 1, 2011. As a direct result, many teachers are protesting and have taken strike action, and school closings continue to rise. Guerrero State Governor Ángel Aguirre has promised to enforce security in the schools, and has pledged to increase police patrols and the installation of security cameras and panic buttons. However, most teachers have little confidence that the security situation will improve. The once-safe tourist hotspot of Acapulco is now a battleground for drug gangs as they continue to effectively instill fear and commit violence against public school teachers.
Protecting the education sector from drug gang-related violence should currently be the highest priority of the Mexican government. It would be especially useful for the government to develop a taskforce to systematically question detained cartel members in order to gain more insight on the development and organization of these smaller drug gangs. Specifically, the Mexican government should exhaustively question the four members of Los Zetas cartel arrested in August 2011 for the Monterrey casino arson attack, a horrific incident that was the result of the casino owners failing to pay the cartels. The Mexican government must dedicate its resources in a concerted effort to re-open all schools forced to close due to threats, and ensuring that teachers and pupils respectively can continue to give and receive education in dangerous parts of Mexico.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Candiss Shumate.